If you look back to Wednesday’s posts you will find an entry discussing a recent lawsuit filed by the South Carolina Attorney General against a major drug manufacturer because of the risk of serious injuries and death by way of heart attacks that a diabetes drug poses to South Carolinians. Today, your Charleston workers’ compensation lawyers read that there is a bill making its way through the North Carolina state legislature that aims at making it harder to sue drug producers, among other provisions.
The Tort Reform for Citizens and Businesses Bill is a Republican led initiative to restrict product liability lawsuits against drug makers. The bill is a vital piece of legislation on the Republication agenda this session and follows a medical malpractice bill that has made its way to a conference committee of State Representative and Senate members. Ultimately, the bills want to reduce insurance and health care costs, while improving North Carolina’s business environment.
Although Republicans are pushing the Tort Reform Bill, some of the state’s 52 House Democrats are in support of the bill, helping it clear the House yesterday. Now, it moves on to the State Senate.
The Bill is not without controversy, its author has agreed to scale back the proposed provision that protects drug manufacturers from product liability lawsuits if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the drug they produced, except in the event of fraud or bribery. That provision has been modified to allow plaintiffs to sue if the drug was unsafe or ineffective in treatment. But, it is the burden of the plaintiff to prove that the drug was unsafe or ineffective by clear and convincing evidence, which is a standard of proof whose requirements fall between those in criminal proceedings and in most civil cases, beyond a reasonable doubt and preponderance of evidence, respectively.
Earlier this year the State’s Attorney General told the House committee studying the Bill that exempting drug manufacturers from product liability lawsuits would seriously impede the efforts of his office’s Medicaid fraud and consumer protection divisions from pursuing cases against major drug makers. In the past decade North Carolina has collected over $400 million in Medicaid settlements.
To the Attorney General, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the legislature to want to protect the drug manufacturers and restrict the State’s ability to attack companies that hurt patients with unsafe products and/or deceive the government. He also notes, other states don’t have these obstacles in place when it comes to filing suit against manufacturers of defective products.